House grumbles in passing budget, road plan but not bourbon bill

05/26/2010 02:33 PM

House budget chairman Rick Rand spoke with Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT — Despite obvious frustration at what many members called an imperfect budget bill, the House overwhelming passed the bill Wednesday, 94-4.

Many representatives explained as they voted their overall disdain for a budget that they believed was weaker than the bill the House passed during this spring’s regular session.

“This is the worst budget for which I will ever vote for in my time in the House,” Rep. Harry Moberly, a Richmond Democrat said. “But it didn’t have to be this way … in tough times you don’t just sit back and whine and retract. (The original House) budget didn’t do that, it created jobs and built our schools.”

Additionally, some lawmakers lamented the fact that the bill they were passing today could look different when the Senate is finished with it.

“This is not the budget we’ll see Friday night,” Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat said. “And at that point we’ll have to take it or leave it, and I suspect many of us will take it.”

The bill allows for furloughing state workers, withdraws funding for Category 4 or Category 5 schools — which the House’s bill from the spring included — and requires school districts to pay for one instructional day in the next school year.

Rep. Rick Rand, a Bedford Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, tried to quell anger at the cut in funding for dilapidated schools. He said without being able to fund construction at all of the qualifying schools, none should occur.

But Rand did say that those schools do need to be taken care of.

“Those schools need to be built,” he said. “We have children in buildings that are inadequate.”

Rand told his colleagues the bill includes no new taxes and $1.42 billion less in spending than in 2009. But those offerings weren’t enough to keep other representatives at bay, with many rural representatives claiming the fight for the Category 4 and 5 schools was far from over.

“These are not projects,” Rep. Thomas McKee, a Cynthiana Democrat said. “They’re necessities.”

Furthermore, as a final vote on the budget bill was being made, Jenkins chided the House for including $100,000 in funding for a Christian school to be built after the state Supreme Court ruled such a move unconstitutional.

“I took an oath to uphold the state Constitution and support the decisions of the judiciary when I took this office,” Jenkins said. “Therefore, I can not put my name as voting for this bill.”

Fellow Louisville Democratic representatives Mary Lou Marzian, Tom Riner and Jim Wayne joined Jenkins in voting “No” on the budget.

But even some representative who voted for the bill joined in on the bill’s failings.

“We as a body have not looked out for the Commonwealth with this bill,” said Rep. Derrick Graham, a Franklin Democrat.

Unemployment, road bills pass, bourbon bill doesn’t

A measure to allow bourbon sampling at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games caused the most controversy of the day in the House chambers.

The bill’s future was in doubt after some contentious discussion in committee on Tuesday and after lawmakers filed multiple amendments to it at the last minute.

“I have serious doubts the bill will pass at all,” said Rep. Dennis Keene, a Wilder Democrat and the chairman of the committee from which the bill came. “I do not believe this issue is worth the time we’ve spent and the controversy it has caused.”

One amendment offered by Riner would shield the liquor sampling tables from children under 18 failed. Another of Riner’s amendments aimed at discouraging sampling near children narrowly passed, 39-38, during floor debate as lawmakers went back and forth about whether the legislation had enough safeguards.

Reps. John Will Stacy, Brent Yonts and Derrick Graham discuss legislation

Ultimately it failed after nearly an hour of debate, with 43 “Yes” votes and 51 against.

While the House didn’t pass the measure, the Senate passed its own bourbon bill during the same time frame. In order for it to pass the House, Stumbo said a compromise from the bill’s House sponsors would need to be made.

“It’s in jeopardy,” Stumbo said. “There was a lot of discussion, lots of controversy. If (supporters) want a bill they’ll have to come with a compromise. I think what lead to the bill’s failure was a lot of confusion.”

Earlier Wednesday morning, a bill aiming to sure-up the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund passed unanimously, 95-0, after no debate. It  heads to the Senate, where an identical measure died in the regular session.

Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat and sponsor of the measure, called it a local solution.

“This is a Kentucky fix, not a Washington fix,” he said on the House floor. The state has had to borrow $1.2 billion from the federal government to keep the trust fund afloat.

Stumbo called the bill a “no-brainer” and suspected the Senate would pass it.

The House also passed both a two- and four-year road plan by a large number as well as the Transportation Cabinet’s operational budget.

School debates raise ire of representatives

While talk of charter schools, and their potential to bring up to $180 million in federal Race to the Top funds to the state, have dominated both the end of the general session and the special session, the House didn’t include any opportunities in its budget bill for such schools.

The House also ignored a bill filed by Moberly, the Richmond Democrat, that would allow charter schools. Such refusal angered Rep. Brad Montell, a Shelbyville Republican.

“We have refused to consider charter school bills in the general session and the special session,” he said. “The mayor of Louisville (Jerry Abramson) has said ‘We need to have that discussion.’ Why are we not debating the merits of charter schools in Kentucky?”

That caused Moberly to call out Gov. Steve Beshear for not putting a measure for charter schools on the special session’s call, even as Moberly felt such a bill would have passed the House.

“Governor, where are you? Why are you not communicating with our leadership?” Moberly said. “The governor is at fault (for not having charter schools). Why was it not on the call?”

After the House recessed for the day, Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, attempted to downplay the frustration his chamber had just displayed.

“I think (the debate) sends a mixed message,” Stumbo said. “First was we had a better product the first time around. The second is this (current) budget in these recession times doesn’t address needs of our state.

The reality is we need to cut government, take those savings and create jobs.”

—Kenny Colston


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